The UK’s largest supermarket, Tesco, has announced plans to ban all plastic that is non-recyclable by 2019. The announcement has been welcomed by environmental groups, but some campaigners have stated that the supermarket should firmly commit to a reduction in its overall volume of packaging. Tesco has called on the UK government for help in establishing a recycling infrastructure that is consistent and one that would create a “closed loop” system, leading to the total avoidance of waste. Unlike competitors such as Iceland, Tesco has not yet definitely committed to reducing the total volume of packaging that is produced and sold by the chain, but has expressed its intention to work with suppliers on the redesign and reduction of packaging and has said it will remove all packaging that is unsuitable for plastic recycling by 2019.
Materials that pose problems for plastic recycling plants include a plastic film containing PVC, pizza trays that use polystyrene and certain water-soluble bioplastics. A Tesco spokeswoman said that the target date would be the end of 2019 and certain varieties of plastic would not be included. Black plastic, for example, can be recycled, but there are not many suitable facilities for this in the UK, so it generally ends up in a landfill rather than recycling.
Tesco was among other supermarkets including Aldi and Sainsbury’s to sign the “world first” UK plastics pact. This is a voluntary pledge to eradicate all single-use plastics from the packaging they use. All plastic used by the companies will need to be one hundred percent recyclable by 2025.
Tesco has been praised by environmental campaign groups such as Greenpeace for “raising the bar” for action regarding problem plastics and for including biodegradable plastics in their target. Elena Polisano, the oceans campaigner for Greenpeace UK, noted that these biodegradable plastics fail to address the pollution problem because they require specific conditions in order to be broken down in the natural environment. Some of these bioplastics can remain in the environment and cause harm to wildlife. She said that Tesco’s realisation that plastics cannot simply be replaced by bioplastics shows their commitment to avoiding false solutions.
As the largest grocer in the UK, Tesco may be a game-changer as far as plastic packaging is concerned, but the company has not yet set an annual target for decreasing the amount of plastic packaging it uses.
Friends of the Earth spokesman, Julian Kirby, stated that Tesco’s position was advantageous with respect to plastic recycling since there is a major problem with the amount of non-recyclable plastic packaging that is used by retailers. However, he said that change and a long-term solution was needed, with stakeholders moving away from the view that the problem of plastic pollution can be solved through recycling. All but absolutely essential plastics would need to be phased out in order to end plastic pollution.
Whilst Iceland has committed to the complete elimination of single-use plastics from its branded products from 2023, Lidl has made a commitment to work towards reducing their single-use plastics by 20 percent by 2019. Tesco’s recent environmental announcements have been welcomed, but more detailed and specific commitments are needed.